January 11, 2005


If you wear a Swedish flag on your clothing in Sweden, it means you are a neo-nazi. I was utterly shocked when my friend taught me that when I lived there. (This knowledge is echoed by singer Maja Ivarsson here, so it's not just that my friend is crazy.) I can't imagine what it must feel like to be ashamed of your flag.

Apollo 11 just landed on the moon: it was amazing. I only wish I had seen the original. And I realized today how freaking cool it is that there's an American flag on the moon. Had we not landed there until 2005, there would be no flag, but we landed in 1969, when it was still OK to think the United States was the best country in the world.

My husband hates the inclusive "we": I certainly had no hand in the moon landing, so I shouldn't put myself in Armstrong's pocket. But I've inherited the mentality that pushed the US to be first. I've inherited the vision that NASA embodies. I've inherited the drive that made Americans work their asses off for ten years simply to go and walk around on a hunk of dust. I'm a product of past determination and success.

There's an American flag on the moon and millions of dollars of equipment floating around in space because Americans decided they were going to the moon. I'm proud I inherited that history.

Posted by Sarah at January 11, 2005 06:46 PM

I was visiting my sister in Houston during the moonwalk. We kept our children up late so they could see it and remember for the rest of their lives. They do. And then the biggie, we went to the parade when the astronauts came home. I don't think my sister and I have ever been so excited as we were to get personal nods from the heroes as they rode by.
We were in heaven. Starstruck young mothers, we were thrilled by the whole idea. It is still a big accomplishment, maybe not necessary but still a big one.

Posted by: Ruth H at January 11, 2005 11:40 PM

I was young and single, living in Okla. City. A group of us got together to watch it on TV. I remember it as if it were yesterday--one of those moments in history that is seared in my brain, along with both Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, the Challenger, Apollo 13, etc., etc.

Your mama

Posted by: Nancy at January 12, 2005 03:14 AM

As I watched it live on television, I kept walking outside to look at what I rememeber to be a nearly full moon. I wanted so much to be able to see some sign of them on that thing.

Posted by: Mike at January 12, 2005 12:45 PM

Hmmm, I was born in '68. The only thing I remember is watching Vietnam on the tiny B&W tv my parents owned. Stupid MSM.

Posted by: mdmhvonpa at January 12, 2005 05:03 PM

I remember the Moon landing vividly...snuck away upstairs to watch it with my then girlfriend.

My main comment is regarding the display of flags. This fall we had a German exchange student. A nice kid with exactly the political ideology you'd expect. During one of our several political discussions we touched on the display of the American flag. He thought it very peculiar, and said that in Germany anyone who displayed the German flag was looked upon as a Neanderthal, a throwback to times long gone. He didn't refer to neo-nazi connections, but it was still a very negative thing.

We live in strange times!

Posted by: Jim at January 12, 2005 09:14 PM

Jim -- you just reminded me of something. When I went to live with my Swedish friend, her parents bought one of those little American flags on a stick and stuck it in a flower arrangement on the table. I thought it was cute and thoughtful, especially since I was in Sweden for 4th of July. Well, now my Swedish friend is dating a German, and her parents wanted to get a German flag for the centerpiece when he came to visit. He told my friend that he did not want them to display the German flag, that he would rather have the flag from Hamburg (his hometown) or nothing at all. The flag from his city? As an American, that sounds totally bizarre, but that's his reality. He doesn't feel a "German" identity.

Posted by: Sarah at January 12, 2005 09:25 PM

I could understand how Europeans, fresh from the despoliation wrought in WWIs and II, might not embrace nationalism quite as fervently as Americans seem to do these days. IG Farben, wrapped in patriotism, annealed with the corporate 'rationality' that produced Zykon B, might put a shade of doubt in one's patriotism. Or the battlefield of the Somme, viewed from space, might be sobering. Funny that those who delivered this insight: http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/pale_blue_dot.html, and this: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_102.html, would fail to grasp their lessons. Sort of like the Chinese inventing, but not exploiting gunpowder: a puzzlement.

As to the United States being 'first', as I recall, it is last, at least amongst industrialized countries, in just about every index of social well being. It is, however, first, but more than merely first, for it is bigger than the next 10 or 20 countries combined, in one thing...arms manufacture. And, significantly, the US is first in per capita imprisonment of its population.

Puzzling also is that the US was the country that first implemented the idea of a secular government, of strong separation between church and state, and yet now seem eager to abandon this. Fresh off of the sectarian 'abatoir' that was 17th century Europe (one student of the L'Ecole National D'Administration, France, said to me "the protestants were stacked like cordwood..."), groups that settled the eastern seaboard of the US, among them the Puritans, who themselves had fled religious persecution, gave the world an innovation that fundamentalist Christians and the Taliban-like devotees of Islam would do well to rediscover: secular government.

Ah, but the pull of nostalgia, the warmth and uncomplicated amnesia that solidarity with ones group gives; these do comfort, and do blot out the, shall we call them, ironies -- Hussein and Mosadeq being most relevant here, but let us not forget Rios Mont, D'Aubisson, Pinochet, the Shah Reza Pahlevi, Ortega, Galtieri, Somoza, Diem, Park -- of history.

And back to the mire that is Iraq, where the Americans, with their newly redisovered zeal for 'democracy,' find themselves buried axle-deep, here is a quote from an earlier imperial entanglement, coincidentally exactly there on the Tigris/Euphrates, where shortly after the France and Britain rushed in to fill the void that the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after WWI had left, this happened:

"The mysterious uprisings in Iraq threw the normally poised British Indian administration off balance. Sir Arnold Wilson told the Cabinet at the end of 1920 that 'there was no real desire in Mesopotamia for an Arab government, that the Arabs would appreciate British rule.' If that were so, then the explosion in Mesopotamia could not be explained as an Arab independence movement. 'What we are up against,' said Wilson, 'is anarchy plus fanaticism.'"

--A Peace to End All Peace
David Fromkin

And how well are the Americans equipped to deal with the internecine tribal, ethnic, national, and imperially-afflicted world that they now are enmeshed in? Here is a telling bit of information:

"Despite the threat of war in Iraq and the daily reports of suicide bombers in Israel, less than 15 percent of the young U.S. citizens could locate either country.

"More young U.S. citizens in the study knew that the island featured in last season’s TV show 'Survivor' is in the South Pacific than could find Israel."

Source: National Geographic web site, October 2004

Nevertheless, having said all of this, I would serve were I called. Such are the contradictions of love of country, and devotion to democracy, tainted though the United States' is at this moment.

One last note: if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend Bruce Beresford's film "Breaker Morant." It truly does nail down the contradictions that imperial adventures produce. Certainly, adding some relief to the relatively black and white attitudes (I hesitate to call the debased political environment that prevails in the US 'debate') could only help.

Posted by: rss at January 13, 2005 12:23 AM

Nobody is trying to abandon the First Amendment. It does NOT state anything about separation of church and state, but simply that Americans are free to practice their religion without government interference. Quite a difference.

Posted by: Bunker at January 13, 2005 01:30 AM

And "Breaker Morant" is an excellent film. It has more to do with politics and diplomacy than anything else. Try watching it again.

Posted by: Bunker at January 13, 2005 01:32 AM

RSS, respectfully,

Please provide a cite for this:

"As to the United States being 'first', as I recall, it is last, at least amongst industrialized countries, in just about every index of social well being."

And also, if you can find any examples of this:

"Puzzling also is that the US was the country that first implemented the idea of a secular government, of strong separation between church and state, and yet now seem eager to abandon this."

I have not seen any local, state, or federal proposal to establish an official religion in the US.

Try to come up with examples of a religion being forced onto an unwilling public, then for counter argument find examples showing religion forcibly removed from the public sphere.

Then there is this:

"newly rediscovered zeal for 'democracy,'"

Is democracy promotion a bad thing? If we take your statement to implicitly mean that we are now promoting democracy in Iraq, please explain how this is an attempt to establish an empire?

For bonus points, if possible, explain which territories the US now holds under imperial control reminiscent of the French and British empires.

Could you please state which demographic group you are referring to in this statement? 'Young' is rather ambiguous.

"Despite the threat of war in Iraq and the daily reports of suicide bombers in Israel, less than 15 percent of the young U.S. citizens could locate either country"

Also, for cross referencing, could you also cite the same demographic from non-US countries and their abilities to answer the same questions.

"having said all of this, I would serve were I called."

Very commendable.

Posted by: John at January 13, 2005 08:27 AM


The US is likely to lag behind other developed nations in many key categories. Why? For a variety of reasons. We have high immigration from undeveloped nations. We count and track everything, good and bad, without sweeping anything under the rug. The US does not abandon and forget anyone, we try to educate everybody, and we test everybody.

Here is a real world example. Cuba has a lower 1st year infant mortality rate than the US. Interestingly, the US has (per capita), more very low birth weight infants born than Cuba, even though our numbers are similar in the other birth weight categories. Why? Probably due to older women having babies, fertitily techniques, American doctors trying to save premies, and counting premies as live births.

So yes, the US has a worse 1st year infant mortality rate, but I'd be willing to bet good money that the US has a higher percentage of pregnancies result in live births than Cuba.

Byna, statistics lie.

Posted by: Byna at January 14, 2005 07:04 PM

When compared to other industrialized countries, the US consistently falls in the bottom quartile or decile in most indices of well being, and has been falling in rank for decades.

In defense spending, however, the US is number 1 in nearly every category except for absolute numbers. The US suzerainty in matters military has been matched in widespread violations of human rights. Often, however, the US relies on proxy states to control over its sphere of influence through coercion at many levels -- juridical, diplomatic, economic, military. State societies of imperial reach (i.e., those that exert control over a geographic region that is continental or global in scale) display similar tendencies.

[Unable to locate citation for this quote]:
"[US] ranks in the bottom quartile of a list of 29 industrialized nations in both life expectancy and infant mortality and its relative ranking in both these categories has been declining since 1960.

"Of all the G7 countries (U.S., France, Germany, Japan, Great Britain, Canada and Italy) only the U.S. has not achieved nearly universal publicly mandated health insurance coverage."

[From groping around on the web a bit, most of these stats. seem to come from a 1999 OECD report. The above site doesn't provide citations. This kind of country ranking, is however, abundant.]

"[The US is] Number one [amongst industrialized countries]:
• proportion of children living in poverty (one in five)
• number or children who have no health care (ten million)
• proportion of children living in single-parent families (one in four)
• number of children dying from gunshot wounds (15 per day)
Health care (among nineteen industrialized countries)
Number one in:
• percentage of population without health care coverage
• lack of provisions for paid maternity leave
• percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion
• rate of infant mortality (death under five years of age) and percentage of infants born with low birth weight
• percentage of preschool children not fully immunized 'incidence of cancer among young men, and breast cancer among women

Number one in:
• emissions of air pollutants per capita 'contribution to acid rain, ozone depletion and global warming
• garbage per capita and junk mail per capita
• hazardous wastes

"Social (among nineteen industrialized countries)
Number one in:
• number of billionaires
• wealth and income inequality (15th in percentage of total income owned by poorest forty percent of population)
• private spending on education (number 17 in public spending on education, 11th in years of full-time compulsory education, 15th in number of scientists and technicians per capita and nineteenth in main proficiency scores on international standardized tests)
• in big homes and homelessness
• in net indebtedness (19th in national savings as percentage of COP)
• in bank failures and bank bailouts
• in pay inequality ratio of average executive salary to average worker (Ii 5th in average female wages as percentage of average male wage)
• percentage of population who have been a victim of crime
• murder rate. reported rapes and murder of children a death by guns, deaths by capital punishment and percentage of unsolved murders (14th in percentage of murders solved)
• number of Jailed prisoners, drug crimes per capita, drive-by shootings. road rage Incidents, carjackings

Military (U.S. rank among 180 countries)
• military expenditures: 1
• greatest number of invasions made not authorized by the U.N.
• military expenditures per capita: 3
• most consistent negative voting on arms control and disarmament..."

Posted by: rss at January 16, 2005 02:47 AM

I feel compelled to add a couple of qualifications to my remarks, given the polarization of political discourse in the US. I support the idea of an apolitical military, subordinate to civilian authority. Those who serve, should, therefore, receive our sympathy and support, and I offer these, as well as grateful thanks, to the author of this blog, to her husband, and to his fellow soldiers.

Regarding the US role in Iraq and the world: I do not believe a hasty withdrawal from Iraq is in anyone's interest. We have a long difficult, and most likely tragic road ahead of us. I don't think we should delude ourselves that we will end up with pluralistic democracy of the western kind in Iraq. With the laudable though misguided goal of preventing Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction, we have stumbled in a mire of sectarian, ethnic and tribal disputes; and these are compounded by a colonial and imperial legacy stretching past the Ottomans, of which US involvement is only the most recent chapter. Anti-western fundamentalists are joining with Sunnis and Baathists to undermine elections that will likely install a Shiite-dominated government. That one line alone could be parsed and perceived dozens of different ways, but it should give a bare taste of the complexity of what we face.

It is critical that the US attempt to understand Iraq's history and society, and that we subordinate our desire for security to the desires of the international community, and to the rule of law. In pursuing security, we should not abandon ourselves secular government, habeas corpus, due process, fair elections, and the rule of law.

Again, I offer my heartfelt sympathies to those who are serving in Iraq. Nothing can adequately express the gratitude that I feel for your service, and for the sacrifice that you are making.

Posted by: rss at January 16, 2005 06:18 AM

You probably weren't born yet but in 1968 when I returned from VN I found an American flag decal inside a Readers Digest magazine. I stuck it on my car window and whooboy did I come on some @#$% on campus. Up till then I had been getting the v peace sing-fingers salute once the flag went up I received the single digit expression of f--yourself.

Posted by: dm at January 16, 2005 07:48 PM


Please explain to me why that the large majority of the people in the world who are looking for a better life than the one they have want to come to the US.

If we are the leaders of the world in dead and poor children (within your narrowly defined guidelines) why do we have people who want to come here to have children and raise families? Why do they not stay where they are?

For every single statistic you mention that we are so horrible, why in those specific areas does the rest of the world flock to our shores to benefit from those things we are so bad at?

Research, science, education, business. This is the country that leads in results in all catagories, and using cherrypicked limited statistics to refute that only makes you a victim of self deception.

Rather than attempt to beat down this country and drag it through the mud, work on improving the country, and lying with statistics is not improving anything.

Posted by: John at January 17, 2005 03:07 PM